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Headaches: Symptoms and Treatment

Samuel Peters, M.D. !


Migraine and Headache Symptoms

There are many different types of headaches. Here, I address the most common symptoms associated with different types of headaches.

Tension Headaches
People with tension headaches commonly report these symptoms:

Episodic Tension Headaches (occur less than 15 days per month)

Pain is mild to moderate, constant band-like pain, pressure or throbbing Pain affects the front, top or sides of the head. Pain usually begins gradually, and often occurs in the middle of the day Pain may last from 30 minutes to several days

Chronic Tension Headaches (occur more than 15 days per month)

Pain may vary in intensity throughout the day, but the pain is almost always present Pain affects the front, top or sides of the head Pain comes and goes over a prolonged period of time

Associated Symptoms of Tension Headaches include:

Headache upon awakening Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep Chronic fatigue Irritability Disturbed concentration Mild sensitivity to light or noise General muscle aching Intense one-sided pain described as having a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant Pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. Pain lasts a short time, generally 30 to 90 minutes (but can last for three hours); the headache will disappear, only to recur later that day (most sufferers get one to three headaches per day during a cluster period). Headaches occur very regularly, generally at the same time each day, and they often awaken the person at the same time during the night.

Cluster Headaches

Sinus Headaches
Deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose The pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.

Migraines The symptoms of migraine headaches can occur in various combinations and include:
Moderate to severe pain (often described as pounding, throbbing pain) that can affect the whole head, or can shift from one side of the head to the other Sensitivity to light, noise or odors Blurred vision Nausea or vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain Loss of appetite Sensations of being very warm or cold Paleness Fatigue Dizziness Fever (rare) Bright flashing dots or lights, blind spots, wavy or jagged lines (aura)

Migraine and Headache Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Headaches?
There are many headache remedies. What works for one person may not work for another. However, almost all practitioners consider lifestyle changes that help control stress and regular exercise an important part of headache treatment and prevention. Avoiding situations that trigger your headaches is also vital.

Medications for Headaches

Most tension headaches can be helped by taking pain relievers such as aspirin, Aleve, Tylenol, or Advil. But be careful! Taking too many of these easy-to-buy pills is a major cause of new, more-difficultto-treat headaches called rebound or pain reliever-induced headaches. A class of drugs known as triptans have become the mainstay of migraine treatment. These drugs include Amerge, Imitrex, Maxalt, Zecuity, Zomig, and others. Aspirin, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if taken at the first sign of a migraine attack, also can be effective. Simple pain relievers do little for cluster headaches because they do not act quickly enough. However, doctors have found that inhaling pure oxygen can be highly effective in providing relief. Decongestants -- and sometimes antibiotic treatment -- can relieve sinus headaches.
Samuel Peters, M.D.